July 9, 2015

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Caller ID Spoofing Scams: Can Caller ID Be Manipulated?

You’ve probably received annoying robo-calls with recorded messages about timeshares or other promotions. You may also have heard from a telemarketer who opens with a request for “five minutes of your time” in exchange for the chance to win a gift card or be entered in a drawing. Identifying the source of those calls usually isn’t difficult, since a number will pop up on your phone that you can verify through an online reverse phone directory. But what about the calls you get that show up on caller ID as the police, IRS, or a nearby local business? You might answer and, because of the ID status, automatically think the caller is legitimate. Unfortunately, hackers have found a way to manipulate the caller identification system; the tactic is known as caller ID spoofing.

How Spoofing Scams Work

Caller ID spoofing scams are designed to get people to give up personal information. Criminals can use that data to commit identity theft, such as opening new accounts in your name. Some callers even manage to persuade people to send in money for settling debts not actually owed or to mail tax returns directly to them. Texas Public Radio recently reported on a wave of calls from people claiming to be Austin police officers. In the scenario, the scammers tell unwitting victims that a family member is in jail and needs to be bailed out. The scammers then convinced victims to buy cash cards for the “bail” and give cash card number over the phone. Austin police note that the scam is working because the bad guys are using caller ID spoofing. These techniques are easy to employ, noted Dave Huras, president of the Communications Fraud Control Association. He told Texas Public Radio that the ability to change caller ID is a feature in the system, not a flaw that can be addressed. “Basically, to get rid of spoofing at this point would take an entire retooling, re-architecture of telephony networks across the world,” Huras said.

Protecting Yourself

As more criminals catch on to the benefits of caller ID spoofing, consumers need to be aware that these scams exist and are growing in frequency. Here are some tips for protecting yourself and your family:

  • Recognize standard procedure for government agencies, like the IRS. There’s an aggressive phone scam targeting taxpayers right now, and potential victims are told they owe money to the IRS. If this happens to you, remember that the IRS will never call you without first having mailed a notice, and IRS agents don’t demand immediate payment or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • If a caller seems legitimate, but you’re still not sure, ask for a callback number. With caller ID spoofing, the number from which they’re actually calling will often be different than the one appearing on caller ID.
  • Never give your credit card number over the phone or reveal any financial information. If the caller asks you to buy a prepaid debit card and then calls later for that number, it’s very likely a caller ID spoofing scam.

As always, another tactic for identity theft prevention is enrolling in a service like IdentityForce’s UltraSecure, which monitors your personal information 24/7 and notifies you quickly of any suspicious activity. If any identity theft damage does occur through caller ID spoofing scams or other tactics, IdentityForce will be with you every step of the way to help you restore your identity.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Pete.

Melanie Medina

Sr. Director of Digital Marketing at IdentityForce
Melanie is a native of Bolivia who has lived in Boston for over 10 years. She likes to make time to travel, jog, read, and play backgammon. Fueled by copious amounts of coffee, Melanie stays on top of her to-do list while also keeping abreast of identity theft issues. Serious data breaches are happening all the time in the U.S. and Melanie loves being part of a solution that brings peace of mind to families across the country.

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